Voice Over

Author Donal Ryan and Narrator Sonya Macari Discuss ALL WE SHALL KNOW
    

Author Donal Ryan, of the moving novel All We Shall Know, explains why he wrote it and how listening to the audiobook effected him. 

What inspired you to write All We Shall Know?
All We Shall Know started as a series of pieces of dialogue between a married couple whose relationship had imploded. She was pregnant by someone else, and he’d been seeing prostitutes. I can’t remember why I started writing those conversations, but I was between books and desperately trying to keep my hand in, to prevent that calcification of language and inspiration that can afflict you when you stop writing. The voice of Melody, the wife, quickly became clear and familiar to me; I understood her and knew her and kind of loved her. I think she’s powerful and self-aware and desperately conflicted, at once guilt-ridden and defiant, damaged by her mother’s coldness and her own terrible decisions. Her voice was in my head for a few years before I sat down and started to write her story properly, and I found that by then the story was extant and all I had to do was listen.

What is it like listening to your book rather than reading it? Does it change the way you thought of certain characters or scenes?
It was a joy to listen to my book being read by Sonya. She really understood the characters and captured their spirits and energies and the nuances of Melody’s unfolding narrative. There’s a real emotional immediacy to the narration; I was lost in it and quite gripped and forgot at times that I knew the story well! The scene towards the close where Mary’s family take their leave of her seemed more charged with tension and regret than I conveyed in my writing; it was quite magical to hear the added layers in Sonya’s narration.

The book is all in Melody’s voice. Was there a particular moment that you were excited to hear Sonya bring to life? Or was there one that was more emotional than you thought it would be?
I was looking forward to hearing Sonya’s reading of the scene in the café where Melody confronts the gossips, and especially the part where she loses her reason and shouts at them. I was quite emotional at Sonya’s sensitive reading of the passages in the maternity ward where Melody describes her love for her newborn child.

Would you ever narrate your own audiobook?
I don’t think I have the skill as an actor or the clarity of voice and tone to narrate an audiobook! I read some chapters of my first novel for RTE radio here in Ireland, and they were broadcast over a week in the evenings, and I found it exhausting. My Tipperary accent tends to take over, and I find it hard to slow down! I do like to read in public, though; I’ve managed to get used to it over the past few years and to relax and actually enjoy it. I don’t think I could do what Sonya has done with All We Shall Know, though. She’s made it a living thing.

Sonya Macari, narrator for All We Shall Know, was able to share with us a little bit about her experience recording.

How did you prepare for this recording?
I firstly read the book to get acquainted with the characters and the story through the main character Melody’s eyes. I was immediately hooked. So beautifully written, so powerful and moving—I loved it. Then I re-read it, highlighting certain aspects and getting a better sense of the secondary characters in the book. There were also many Irish colloquialisms within the book so I wanted to get those right!

Melody is a complex character, struggling with trying to do something good while coming to terms with her past (not-so-good) actions. What was the most challenging part of bringing Melody to life?
Well I must admit I didn’t particularly find it challenging to bring Melody to life. The author wrote this character in such a real and visceral way that I felt I knew Melody so intimately, she drew me in from page one, and I felt I was able to capture her pretty instantly and become her voice.

Since the story is all in Melody’s voice, did you feel any pressure to get her “just right”?
Because I felt attached to Melody in a sense, her voice came to me from the get-go. Given it’s a very Irish book, it had to be narrated in the right accents. There are many characters of the traveler community that flow through the book—I wanted to give each and every character their own voice, their own accent, and that was a little more challenging than Melody’s voice. However they all came to me as I got immersed in the story, and I hope the listener will be drawn in. The characters are so compelling, and with such a powerful story of love, betrayal, loss, and self-destruction, I believe they’ll be captivated.

What is your favorite part of All We Shall Know?
It’s so hard to choose one specific excerpt, as the text is so beautifully written. Not giving too much away, I understood Melody’s decision in the end. It made sense to me, and it made me feel hopeful for her. It’s a super ending. I will admit I got choked up on the last day of narrating, because I was so invested I became quite emotional, as did the director, Linda Korn—who by the way was incredible—she too got a little choked up! So to sum up, I’m delighted to have been asked to narrate this wonderful book. It’s been a very special experience.